Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Return to Seatown

Seatown is situated on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, not too far from the fossil hunting mecca of Lyme Regis. We first visited Seatown in May, 2005. I had always planned to visit this area before in the search for fossils but had been put off by the thought of hoards of tourists!

Eventually, though, the lure of complete ammonites and a sense of palaeontological history was enough to get me to Dorset. That first trip was a real eye opener. The weather had been atrocious that week and it rained heavily throughout the night before our trip on the Saturday.

I knew quite a bit about Seatown; I'd done my research. It was the best compromise location in the area since it was certain that fossils would be fairly abundant, maybe not complete ammonites but certainly plenty of bits. I've worked in various clay formations for some years now and know that quite often the best times to look in the clays are after heavy rainfall, but be prepared for very muddy boots!

By the end of the day, I felt we'd done quite well. A nice selection of both nautiloid and ammonite fossils graced our rucksack, including a few nigh-on complete ammonites. It helped that very few people were there and we had the beach virtually to ourselves. However, we didn't find any of the highly prized nodules that contain complete three-dimensional ammonites once prepped, and there were very few belemnites in evidence which I felt was strange (more on this later).

We left Seatown and then Dorset itself a couple of days later, but I knew then that I wanted to return and have another delve into Seatown's past. Early in 2007 we decided to return.

The Return

We returned to Dorset at the end of March 2007. This time the weather wasn't as "fossil-friendly" as previously but, on the other hand, it was just after the highest tide of the Spring and my hopes were high of at least enjoying similar fortune to that of our previous visit.

Low tide was mid-afternoon and we timed our arrival for lunchtime. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out and the cold northerly wind was blowing way over our heads. Again there were only a few people there as we made our way to the fossiliferous beds of the blue lias.

However, this time the situation was somewhat different. There was only one reasonable cliff fall which yielded a few nice pieces, but very little else. On our previous visit the clay cliffs were literally crumbling and falling before our eyes, but without the heavy rain they remained in fairly good shape.

On the other hand, the scouring tide had really cleaned up the exposed beds and in some sections we were walking on very flat stone, almost table-like. It was here that there was a marked difference from our last trip.

Exposed in extremely large numbers were belemnites and some were large for this particular locality. Previously they had been conspicuous by their absence and those that were found were tiny. This time we only collected one or two but the fact that they were present in numbers was surprising.

We continued our search but ammonites were in short supply, so we headed around the point at Seatown and proceeded to look for the elusive ammonite nodules. Despite our best efforts we struggled to find anything - a partial nodule with a partially exposed ammonite was all we could manage.

We turned back at low tide and headed towards the car, stopping to look as we went but without a lot to show for our efforts. Perhaps the most interesting fossils recovered were about half a dozen fully pyritized ammonites about 15mm across. I haven't quite made up my mind whether they are complete ammonites or whether they are the central coils of bigger specimens.

Either way, they are extraordinarily beautiful with an exceptional degree of preservation. It is easy to forget that they are 190 million years old (Lower Jurassic).

More people were scouring the beach by then and we returned to the car for a drink. At that point I knew that, whereas I would probably not visit Seatown again, at least for fossils, I definitely wanted to return to the Jurassic Coast and try again at another location, Charmouth for example.

Seatown is a great place to look for fossils, but please be aware of the tides. It is easy to get cut off if you are not careful. Also be aware that the cliffs are continually crumbling, especially in wet weather, so keep a good distance in these conditions.


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